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    • John Bennison
    • In the last forty years, John Bennison has been a teacher, preacher, lecturer, trainer, carpenter, coffin builder, counselor, spiritual advisor, ethicist, entertainer, assembly-line union worker, small business entrepreneur, residential real estate specialist, corporate cog and executive director of a faith-based non-profit organization.

      He’s authored eight publications and numerous commentaries on faith and values, and as an ordained minister served as a parish pastor over 25 years. He earned his Doctorate from Claremont School of Theology, as well as his BA degree in philosophy and religion from Lake Forest College.

      John contributes his leadership and experience as Volunteer Director and Lead Teacher with Pathways Faith Community (http://pathwaysfaithcommunity.org), as he regularly writes the Words & Ways Commentaries to engage Christian progressives everywhere in meaningful dialogue (http://wordsnways.com).

      John also serves as the Director of the Mountain Shadow Film Society, bringing the best in foreign and independent filmmaking to the San Francisco East Bay community of Walnut Creek (http://mountainshadow.org).

      Meanwhile, John also continues to provide professional client services to buyers and sellers of residential real estate in the Bay Area area market (see imaginecominghome.com).

      Having raised two daughters, he resides with his spouse and golden retriever in Walnut Creek, California.

With Whom Shall We Bargain, If Not “God?”

So, if thoughts and prayers (of petition or intercession) cannot produce any salvific change when uttered to an imagined divine – who for anyone with eyes to see, or ears to hear is too deaf, indifferent or impotent to intercede — then with whom can we bargain, or utter any plea for help?

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Freedom, Responsibility and the Moral Imperative

Even 150 years ago, it would appear the question of how much freedom was too much freedom was a debate with which our forebears had to wrestle. Their assertions were based on their divergent understandings of what the notion of freedom accorded them under our national constitution.

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A House Divided: Raising the Roof, or Razing the Foundation

“He (Jesus) knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”Mt. 12:25

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We Love Our Guns More

One Progressive's Response to a Culture of Gun Violence

The lack of reasonable restrictions when it comes to guns is rooted in their obvious appeal; leading to their preponderance in staggering numbers in a culture that allows utter unreasonableness to pose under the guise of “protection of freedom” and individual rights. That’s why we will not simply legislate our way out of this one through reasonable debate, a half-baked compromise, or a better argument. As a society, we love our guns, and what they represent.

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Beliefs Versus the Efficacy of Faith

Periodically, it is helpful to remember that belief and faith are not the same thing.  Every group of mortals seems to inevitably gather around a particular set of beliefs; presumably based on the values they hold to be the most meaningful to them, or of greatest importance.

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Traditions, Dead or Alive: Ruminations & Remembrances

When asked in later years how I received my calling to ordained ministry, I used to joke that the burning bush for me was an incinerated draft card.  But with a last name like ‘Bennison,’ (an old English word for ‘blessing,’ or ‘benediction)’ and the first name John (from the Greek”Ἰωάννης” or Hebrew “Yôḥānān” meaning ‘graced by God)’ what else was I to do with my life?

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The Myths We Deem to be True and Sacred

In this new year – just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse — something dark and revelatory already happened on that day. Thousands of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol; wielding clubs, and bats, and – in one instance – a Bible.

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Christmas for Adults: When Jesus Isn’t the Reason for the Season

Jesus is, in fact, no longer the reason for the season. But the reason this is so extends far beyond the cultural and commercial contamination of a quaint old tale.

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Fault Lines: Hypocrisy as Tragedy

From the Greek word, hypocritis, the hypocrite is a ‘play actor.’ While misfortune is befalling us on a massive scale these days, true tragedy is the result of the hypocrite who has the choice to decide to act otherwise.

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Preachin’ to the Chickens: Remembering John Lewis

In Remembrance: Growing up the son of an Alabama sharecropper, John Lewis practiced preaching to the chickens; from whence he clearly developed his oratorical style. He matured and went on to devote a lifetime of service as the “conscience” of the Congress; often preaching, as it were, to a flock of chickens of another sort. But this time with a calmer, constant, steady and unwavering voice.

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The Crumbling of a Monumental Pedestal: Reconstructing the Divinity of Jesus

Along comes the dispute over the monuments of famous historical figures now considered worthy by some of being knocked off their high horses. It is a reminder for us all to reconsider just who, or what, each of us believes is of such monumental importance and value that we would elevate it to a place of prominence. For those who would follow claim to be followers of a Jesus figure of our own understanding, one might do well to reflect on whatever “divine” attribute one might accord such a revered figure.

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The BLM Movement, and a Privileged White Response

As reactions to racial inequities have boiled over once again in recent days, the question is now repeatedly asked whether or not our country has at long last reached a tipping point? For those of us who are persons of white privilege, we are not guilty for the sins of our forebears, but we are responsible. We can’t change the past, but we can take hold of the present, and – for the sake of our national fabric that is so tattered and torn — amend our lives and our social order, going forward. How?

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A Beautiful Thing: A Maundy Thursday Dream

We are living these days under what feels like house arrest, as we observe “social distancing.” That’s an oxymoron, if there ever was one. Human beings are soft-wired – if not hardwired – to be together. Nowadays, the kindest thing we can do for each other is to keep our distance.

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If Truth Matters, What is Truth?

“Truth matters. Truth matters. If truth doesn’t matter, we are lost. We are lost.”

And so, the obvious question is this: If truth matters – above and beyond the facts of the matter – what is truth?

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Christmas Redux, or a Rebirth of Hope?

In these dark and dreary days each year, our world turns to celebrate another Christmas holiday. Some may do so out of the sheer need to escape, if only for a fleeting while; grasping, once again, at a thin belief in some divine intervention into the human story, with the birth of a savior king. Deeply powerful rituals and traditions are dragged out of the attic and observed; going through the motions for yet another year. Others, however, like myself, may repeat some of the rituals to simply reaffirm one’s belief in the rebirth of “hope”.

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Our Better Selves

A

Why do we seem inherently unable to be more responsive to the world’s needs; where instead we seem instinctually inclined to put ourselves and our own needs ahead of everything and everyone else? What might we do to be less inclined to reflect what seems to be so much a part of our human nature? If there is anything akin to a sacred spark within us, with the example of Jesus’ own way of the cross?

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The Power of Signs, Symbols and Ritual

A Rationale for Religious Ritual When the Rationality of Words Fail Us

When there is an absence of conscious symbolic ritual, what happens with such a lack of awareness about the power that signs and symbols play in our lives, and the depth or richness of value and meaning they provide? How can we otherwise express what is ultimately inexpressible?

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Making The World A Better Place

Restoration of a Vision from the Christian Faith Tradition

What might constitute an adequate improvement to the world order? This commentary constitutes an exploration of this pesky, perennial question about “a better world” from the vantage point of one faith tradition, and in contemporary context. Its intention is not to offer novelty or any new revelatory insight, but rather to remember and restore a perspective that lies at the heart of a biblical gospel tradition; based on the teachings of a pre-Easter human Jesus.

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“Making God Necessary?”

A Response by

As anyone who’s read or listened to me share my journey over the years knows full well, I have now arrived at a place (at least for now!) where – in my thinking, and with the window through which I see the world these days – I call myself a “post-theist.”

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Textual Criticism: It’s Not Just for Ancient, Sacred Scripture Anymore

The congressional hearings about to begin over a Supreme Court nominee will largely hinge on the political philosophies of different elected officials; who will view the judicial record of the candidate through the lens of their separate interpretations of constitutional law, and how it should be applied. How is the task of interpretation and application different, or the same, when it comes to “sacred” scripture and constitutional law?

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Discrimination or Discernment in the name of Religious Expression

Postscript of an Independence Day Observance

What happens when the discernment of one citizen’s religious beliefs are deemed to be discriminatory; infringing upon the civil liberties and rights of another citizen? In fact, what constitutes any set of beliefs as “religious,” with the constitutional protections accorded it?

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The Synonymy of Politics and Religion

Mixing politics and religion is far more than tampering with a combustible concoction. Because politics and religion both attempt to address the same needs, dreams and desires, values and principles – they are essentially synonymous terms.

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The Transitory Nature of Beliefs, Part II

A reflection and commentary for Holy Week & Easter Observances from the perspective of a progressive thinker from the Christian faith tradition.

  Symbol, Ritual, and Learning to Distinguish True & False Myths Because religious progressives often like to emphasize actions over words, and doing over some musty, ancient, stratified system of believing, I’ve asked what part any creedal statement of belief might still be …

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The Transitory Nature of Beliefs, Part I

Nowadays we talk about what’s real and unreal as real (news) or fake (news). But it’s all based on establishing some set of principles or criteria that one can assert is believable, or not.  But when the ground shifts beneath what one once considered solid conviction, what’s left? Are there any underlying fact, principles or life experiences upon which one can still say, “This I believe. Always have, and always will?” Note: this commentary includes a review of Jack Spong’s latest book, “Unbelievable: Why ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation can Produce a Living faith Today.”

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Playing Favorites

The Problem with Blessings and Curses

“Have a blest day?” What in this world does that mean? Better luck or good karma, instead of bad? In the ancient world, denoting someone as “blest” was a way of expressing a deity’s special favor towards that person. If that sounds quaint, there are still plenty of people today who believe they can curry favor or improve the odds of achieving more blessings than curses; while politicians routinely conclude their speeches by invoking the Almighty to bless the good ‘ol USA. There’s just one problem. It doesn’t work.

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As Legends Go: Conceiving of a Holy Nativity

For anyone who might still want to hold out that Jesus is still the reason for the season, the obvious question is why? If there’s any lingering claim to Jesus’ divinity by way of a virgin birth that could actually result in some sort of redemption for this weary old world, I might be all for it. But that’s an ancient hope, borne of a fanciful legend, whose fruition will take more than singing some beloved old carols, all the while debating whether or not to spike the eggnog.

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If I Called Myself a “Christian”

  A Call for a New Christology   You can read and/or print a pdf copy of this commentary Here. NOTE: An earlier 2-part Words & Ways commentary in 2011 approached the question posed in the title, …

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Moral Imperative vs. Moral Equivalency as a “Religious” Inquiry

A Commentary in the Aftermath of Recent Acts of Violence, Domestic Terrorism & Yet Another Culture War

Not long ago, I received a group email message from an acquaintance. A devout Muslim, he’d written to his circle of friends to tell us he was leaving the country in a few days to undertake a pilgrimage known as the Hajj. The purpose of Ejaz’ message – and as part of his required preparations for his pilgrimage — was to ask forgiveness for any wrong he may have intentionally or unintentionally committed with anyone in his circle of friends and acquaintances.

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Adios, “Dios”

Saying Goodbye to “God” in Sacred Text

What good is “God?” We know well how much violence is committed in the name of “God.” If we were to delete both our traditional Western word and notion of “god” from both our speech and thinking, what are the implications for such things we ourselves know and experience to be true in our own human experience? I’m talking about conceiving of such things as love, compassion, mercy, grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, even absolution, redemption, and salvation. Part one in this series considers a scripture text considered sacred, but noticeably absent is the presence of any deity.

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Resurrection as Change: Deleting “God” – Part III

The idea of “God” has been problematic for as long as the notion existed. As a result, “God” has admittedly been for me a direction; but neither a destination, nor even a companion along the way any longer. As the poet suggests, if the notion of “god” is directional movement from a former past to the present now, then perhaps it is the time to leave the “G” word behind. What does that mean?

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Resurrection as Change, Part II

The Emmaus Experience of Transformation

The Emmaus legend is about both the inevitability of change and the possibility of transformation. … In all the swift and varied changes of this world, the elusive goal of converting hearts and minds remains optional.

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Resurrection Is Only Change: A Brief Reflection for the Observance of Good Friday and Easter – Part I

Recently I’ve become aware of some significant changes occurring in the personal lives of some of the folks that gather in our monthly Pathways circle. Some changes are welcome, while some are not. It’s a mixed bag. It all reminds me, once again, of the only constant thing in our lives. It is the progressive changes that continue unabated, with whatever number of days we are each randomly accorded. Me included.

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Stranger As Neighbor in a Promised Land

Contrary to the old adage, fences do not necessarily make good neighbors. In our election campaign season this last year, the winning candidate promised to build a wall and have our neighbor pay for it. We’ll see. Now by presidential executive order, an indefinite ban on all refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries entering our country has also been put in place.

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How a “Non-theist” Celebrates “The Holidays,” Part 2

The Christmas holidays are even trickier for those who give even a token nod to a long-held doctrinal claim
of orthodox Christianity; that a theistic god somehow enters into the human story, rather than arising out of
our own consciousness and human imagination.

How then might a self-professed non-theist celebrate the nativity of a Galilean sage from days long gone
by, and call it holy? It lies in an ancient message that – more often than not – runs counter to the cultural
and political climate; but is central to the character and teachings of Jesus.

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Something Old, Something New: How a Non-Theist Celebrates “The Holidays”

Part 1 of 2-Part Article

he Thanksgiving holiday in America is a national observance that has been traditionally framed in a religious context. Whether you like roast turkey or not, one is expected to be thankful for it, and express one’s gratitude to the “Giver” of all good gifts.

For those of us who have enough, or more than enough, it’s all sufficiently palatable; if not theologically problematic to sing the old standard hymn in the face of arms-length hunger and poverty.

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Reconciling False Divisions, Part II

Second in a Series exploring the shared Abrahamic roots of three faith traditions

In a world so filled with forced migration and walls of division, the three Abrahmic faith traditions can share a common pilgrimage of faith over belief. It is an act of trust. Put another way, it is an act of submission that draws one into another kind of journey. In this sense, all children of Abraham are “muslims.”

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